The Going-Back-On-The-Mission Dream

Anecdotally, a common recurring dream among members (and a lot of ex-members) is the classic “return-to-the-mission,” where somebody is called to be a missionary again in middle age. 

Dream interpretation can be irresistible to conjecture about, but any particular interpretation is ultimately non-falsifiable. While it makes sense that that particular dream is manifesting some Freudian, deep-seated anxiety our current psychometric tools are way too blunt to test anything. It’s so widespread I suspect the return-to-the-mission dream means something psychologically, but I don’t know what.  

In my own version, the primary feeling is one of inconvenience and anxiety. I’m in the middle of life and I’m told I have to drop everything to go back to my old field of Eastern Spain. While in my non-dream, real world mission I did in fact serve the full 24 months (not that I would be ashamed if I didn’t), in the dream the rationale is often so that I can finish a complete 2 year term that I terminated early, and I’m thrown back into the field with a bunch of 19-year olds for a few transfers. Another feeling is one of moroseness; I was super excited to leave the mission and move on with the next steps in life, and returning to the field felt like a step backward. 

Makes me think about what it would be like if it was like the old days and I was companions with Bob from accounting with three kids. There’d be a lot less room for zealous excesses (try telling a bunch of middle aged men that if we made a pact with God and sacrificed lunches God would bless us with more baptisms), but we’d be driven more by anchored conviction than flash-in-the-pan youthful energy. It’s an interesting thought experiment. 

17 comments for “The Going-Back-On-The-Mission Dream

  1. I really liked my mission, but I’ve had that dream more than once. Then again, I had a pretty positive college experience but I still get a similar dream, at least once a month, that I’m back in school and that it’s time for finals but I haven’t bothered to go to class for the whole semester. I guess it’s maybe for that reason, among others, when I hear exmormons talk about the mission dream being subliminal evidence that we all secretly hate the church that I tend to roll my eyes. I could just be that you had a stressful week in the waking world.

  2. I have had the “dream” just once in my life (and I am really old) and it was great to be back! Brought back wonderful memories of it all. I had an amazing mission. It is still holy ground to me.

  3. I had a great mission and I’ve also had the going back dream. And like Jimbob I’ve had the I didn’t study for a test dream. A few months after being called into the bishopric I had the going to sacrament meeting and forgetting it was my turn to get speakers and nothing was planned and everyone was looking at me dream. Definitely stress related.

  4. I have had the back-on-a-mission dream many times. I usually marvel at the incompetence of those around me and sigh “Well, I survived it once, I can survive it again.”

    KLC, at least you remembered to wear pants.

  5. I’ve had that dream many times. And the theme is always the same: I need to cut the mission short and get back to taking care of my family. And so for me it seems to be about not allowing “out of season” virtues to trump “in season” virtues.

    And from a purely psychological point of view it might be about not allowing my compulsion (OCD) to crush my true sensibilities. At this point in my life it would be wrong for me to go out and preach to the nations after the manner of Paul–even though my obsession would have me fear that I’m failing for not doing so. I know within my deeper and (hopefully) more rational self that I have limitations because of mental illness. And more importantly that I am needed at home because of the special needs of my family.

  6. @ KLC: I wasn’t going to mention this, but I’ve had a “I show up to teach an EQ lesson and I realize I’m in my garments” dream, something akin to your unprepared bishoping dream and the classic “show up to school naked” dream.

  7. I’ve dreamt that the bread I brought for the sacrament was moldy. (This was when my sons were deacon/teacher age.) I’ve dreamt of arriving at stake conference and realizing I never chose any music for the choir to sing. (Apparently it didn’t come up in rehearsal.) Worst of all is the dream that I forgot about a class I was registered for and now have to take the final despite never going to it. I’ve gotten that one many times. I’m usually lucid enough to talk myself out of it, but it takes effort. (You’re in your 50s! You have a full-time job! Yes, you can really be sure you didn’t register for an undergrad class and then forget about it!)

    Compared to those, the couple of times I’ve dreamed about being called to go back on a mission were downright pleasant. I wouldn’t say I was excited to go in those dreams, but I was fine with it.

  8. I have that nightmare (and it is always a nightmare) many times. And the rationale is always the same, as with yours, I still have a few months to make up (which is funny, because due to various factors, I wound up staying an extra month in reality).

    Sometimes, all the same missionaries from my mission are there too, and sometimes it’s me with a bunch of young’uns.

    I hate that nightmare, but whateves.

    Makes a nice contrast to all the other dreams, I guess, which involve bizarre mash-ups like Battlestar Galactica but with My Little Pony characters (and which switches to the plot of Babylon 5 halfway through when the Wookies show up).

  9. I’ve had that dream only a couple of times. The one I have most frequently is the “I’m back in college and have a recital that I forgot about and haven’t practiced for” dream. (I majored in music.) I have a lot of unfinished business psychologically when it comes to my career and how it’s panned out since college, so those recital dreams make a lot of sense. My mission isn’t something I ever want to do over, but I feel like I’ve worked through everything I need to work through concerning it.

  10. This is one of my recurring dreams. Usually, I’m tracting without a companion and wearing normal clothes. In one tracting dream, I met a gorilla making cricket noises and a talking dog wearing blue underwear.

  11. Though I’ve been inactive for over 20 years, I still have the recurring return-to-mission dream. In the dream I am very much the older agnostic inactive Latter-day Saint/Mormon I am today. Oddly though, I accept the call and return to the mission to do an additional 2 years of service.

    Whatever the Freudian implications, and I think Freud had plenty of worthwhile things to say, I think this is natural. Lot’s of us have that dream where we are back in school, and we didn’t study for the big final. Similarly, I did professional theatre for a couple of years after college graduation. Almost two decades ago, I had the privilege of being in a hit show in regional theatre. Occasionally, I dream that we are reopening the show and I have to be back on stage that night… but I haven’t rememorized my lines and hope I can somehow bumble my way through.

    Weird. Unlike the mission dream, where I am at peace and confident with returning to the field to do more proselyting (as an inactive agnostic?), the theatre dream is always nerve-wracking unpreparedness (even though in real life I’d love to have another chance to be onstage).

  12. I’ve had the dream multiple times. It’s not consistently stressful or joyful, but overall I think it’s still filled with a desire to do more, in a good way. I think serving a mission now would be both better and worse. I’d hope that I would be smarter about how I would do things but I’d maybe have less tolerance for the inefficiencies that inevitably follow such efforts. I’ve never really felt I had an inspired dream, I assume it’s just an indication that my mission was a significant part of my life. There was an intensity of living at that time that would be hard to match in middle age. I still dream about schooling too – generally more stressful and relating to a lack of preparation for an assignment or class, dreams I’d rather not have.

  13. I’m 43. I left the church about 10 years ago. However, when I was a believer, I had that dream on a regular basis for at least 7-10 years after my mission. I was an extremely dedicated missionary and loved my mission but whenever I had the dream, I’d always accept the call to return but I always felt sick to my stomach. It was like I knew that I had to say yes but I really didn’t want to do it all over again.

    I wouldn’t call it a nightmare but I definitely felt sick in my dreams at the thought of serving again, even though I loved my mission as a missionary. I’m sure that for those who didn’t like their missions, this dream would be a nightmare. For me, I think that even though I enjoyed the mission, a mission is a lot of hard work and involves a lot of rejection and maybe the feelings of uneasiness in my dreams just have to do with my subconscious saying, “I don’t think we want to voluntarily go through all that hard work and rejection again.”

  14. I’ve had all those dreams several times: (1) returning to my mission in middle/advanced age; (2) forgetting all about a class I had registered for and it’s time for finals; and (3) being in public wearing just my garments. It’s surprising to learn how common these dreams/nightmares are with other people in general.

  15. I can recall having a return to the mission dream 4 times. For the first two I remember that the reasoning was that they really needed me back. For the second two, I remember that I was able to negotiate that if you need me back so much, I get to not have a companion. I haven’t had one in over ten years though.
    School related dreams have either been it’s the first week of school and I can’t find my class schedule, or it’s that I have a final and I can’t find the way to whatever room I need to take it in.
    I’ve never had garments in my dreams.

  16. Love this–post and comments.
    btw, Never had any of the dream scenarios mentioned, or at least recall having them.

  17. Served 2 missions now. I’m really old. Never had a dream about either mission. I’m very impressed with the number of you who remember these weird dreams. ROFL with Mark, ” In one tracting dream, I met a gorilla making cricket noises and a talking dog wearing blue underwear.”

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